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FBI probes burglary at pheasant farm
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RIVERSIDE  (AP) — An FBI terrorism task force is investigating after an animal rights group took responsibility for cutting open fencing and releasing birds from a Southern California pheasant farm.

The Press-Enterprise reported late Friday that the agency’s joint terrorism task force is investigating the July 22 incident at the Ash Grove Pheasant Farm and Orchard in Riverside.

The Animal Liberation Front — which openly advocates breaking the law to fight the exploitation of animals — described on its website how members wearing masks entered the farm about 55 miles east of Los Angeles and used wire cutters to tear open fencing at four of six pens on the property.

“With basic tools and determination, anyone is capable of destroying the barrier that stands between an animal and their freedoms,” according to a communique posted on the group’s web site.

Farm owners Don and Theresa Fitzgerald said they awoke to find their coop open and a pile of feathers where they believe a coyote ate one of the birds. Nine birds remained in the aviary, but some were so spooked and injured they had to be euthanized.

“I cannot believe these people truly love animals if they’re just going to let these birds out to fend for themselves in the wild,” a crying Fitzgerald told the newspaper. “To me that’s cruelty. These birds don’t deserve what these people did to them.”

Fitzgerald, who has been breeding the colorful birds and selling their eggs for about a year, said the pheasants were her pets and had been trained to sit on her arm and shoulder.

“They’re happy here, so why should they be let loose and have the coyotes eat them?” she said.

Initially, the incident was reported to police as grand theft, but later was referred to the FBI.

Agents are investigating the burglary as a case of domestic terrorism, said Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman.